- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2014

VIERA, Fla. | Much has changed about the look of the Washington Nationals since Jamey Carroll first wore their uniform. Other than a few age lines, Carroll doesn’t think much has changed about him.

Carroll, now 40, was a utility player who got into 113 games during the Nationals’ inaugural season in 2005. His career has taken him to five other teams since and now he’s back with the Nats, trying to earn the role he once had.

“Hopefully, just [age],” Carroll said about the differences between the 2005 Carroll and the current version. “Obviously, I’ve learned a lot in the game and I think I have an understanding of this game. But hopefully you see the same player. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel I could be that same player.”

Carroll’s tale is interesting, regardless of whether he’s on the Nats’ final 25-man roster that opens the regular season next Monday in New York against the Mets. He toiled six seasons in the minors before getting a surprise late-season callup to the Montreal Expos in 2002, becoming a rookie at age 28. Except for a three-game rehab stint in 2009, he hasn’t been back to the minors since.

He found a niche and he’s made it work. He’s primarily a middle infielder. But the only positions he hasn’t played in the majors are first base and catcher. He even pitched an inning for Minnesota last season, a three-up, three-down inning at that.

“I think the role was put in front of me,” said Carroll, a native of Evansville, Ind. “That’s just kind of how it seemed to fit for me the first few years. So I tried to embrace it, be as good as I possibly be could be at as many positions as possible and hopefully that helped. Fortunately, it has been able to work out this long.

“Sitting here and looking back, it has been parts of 12 seasons now. I feel like I can go out and do a lot of the things I’ve been doing. All that being said, I work hard at it so I’m not too surprised it has lasted this long.”

Can it continue another year in D.C.? There are still several unknowns with the Nats’ final roster and the makeup of the bench is one of them. Catcher Jose Lobaton, outfielder Scott Hairston, infielder Danny Espinosa and outfielder Nate McLouth would appear to have four of the five available spots locked up. Carroll is certainly in the mix for the other spot, as are several others like Tyler Moore and Jeff Kobernus.

First-year manager Matt Williams admits to some sleepless nights as he works over the final construction of his team. He’s plenty familiar with Carroll and hasn’t seen anything in spring training to change his opinion of Carroll’s abilities.

“He’s a pro. It’s nothing new. I’ve seen it for a long time,” Williams said. “He is a professional player in every sense of the word. Certainly, the defense is always there. You learn that as you get older, not saying that he’s old, but as you have more time, you learn that you bring your glove every day and contribute every day.

“He does the little things within the game that you need as a team. He knows what to do on the ballfield at all times.”

Which is nice, though it doesn’t guarantee a spot on the team. Living on the edge is part of a utility player’s life, so Carroll doesn’t let it stress him out too much.

“I’m a position that’s always last to be decided on the team,” he said. “I’ve taken the same approach. I’ve been playing as hard as I can. Hopefully, I can play well enough to make that decision tough for them. I don’t know what they’re thinking, have no real honest read or feel on the situation. We’ll see.

“You get to where it gets closer, you kind of want to know how to start preparing for what’s next. It is something to think about, but once you get out there, you know the only thing you can control is how you play and that’s how you go about it.”

Odds are his career continues, even if it is not with the Nats. Some team will need the variety of skills Carroll can bring. But he’ll deal with that if it becomes necessary. He chose to sign with the Nats for several reasons, among them a chance to get back to the National League (“I feel that’s helpful for who I am,” he said) and the chance to play for a playoff contender.

“This is in a sense the process they started nine years ago when coming to D.C.,” Carroll said, “and it is kind of cool to see where it’s at right now.”

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